The First PC to Die, Ever.

Author: DHBoggs /

 According to Dave Arneson's Corner of the Table newsletter, Vol. III, #4

"There will be a medevil "BRAUNSTEIN" April 17, 1971 at the home of David Arneson from 1500 hrs to 2400 hrs with refreshments being available on the usual basis. Players may come at any time and any number are welcome to attend what should prove to be an exciting time.  It will feature mythical creatures and a poker game under the Troll's bridge between sunup and sundown."

Of course, this is only an announcement, but we have no reason to think the game did not take place as planned.

That game, you may note, therefore took place 50 years ago to the day this essay is being posted.  Was it the first ever Blackmoor game with Player Characters engaged in a tabletop medieval fantasy adventure?   Or maybe another way of asking that, was it the first game of what we would now recognize as a kind of "D&D"?

There is a very good chance the answer is yes.

Our earliest record tied conclusively to Blackmoor is the Northern Marches map the Areneson mailed to Rob Kuntz in March of 1971 - just weeks prior to the Troll Bridge poker game.  To recap briefly, that map accompanied a letter introducing Arneson's Northern Marches campaign.  He also mentions 4 players (Duane Jenkins, William Hoyt, Edward Wernecke, and Marshal Hoegfeldt) from whom he apparently had commitments to play, as stated in the letter: "The area known as JENKIN’S LAND is ruled by Sir Jenkins while Bill Hoyt rules Williamfort, Ed Werncke rules Swampwood, Marshall Kieston."

Bill Hoyt, from whom we have the map, has made it clear that the campaign as planned in the letter never happened and he played in no games there.  What we are seeing with the letter and map to Kuntz is Arneson's initial planning, at a time before he has a copy of CHAINMAIL with its Fantasy Supplement.

As far as we know, of these persons mentioned only Jenkins actually played in Blackmoor during the pre-D&D period.  Marshall Hoegfeldt very shortly got kicked out of the group, and Bill Hoyt decided to join the Gregg Scott/Randy Hoffa group, and all of them got written up as the "Infamous Characters" Marfeldt the Barbarian, Lord WhiteHead, The Egg of Coot and the Ran of Ah Foo. (Note that later, after D&D was published, Bill did finally play in Blackmoor.)

Within  a few weeks then of sending his Northern Marches map to Kuntz, Arneson places the notice in COTT for the for the "medieval Braunstein" Troll Bridge Poker game.

The next issue of COTT, (Vol. III, #5) promises the start of "reports from the Black Moors" medieval setting and announces another medieval game on May 22, after the general meeting. This is the meeting where Dan Nicholson received the Spanish Royals character sheet. 

The picture emerging with the two COTT entries and the March letter to Kuntz, is of the initial development of a new campaign, not even yet "officially" named Blackmoor until the May entry.  The picture is further reinforced when we consider that the first Blackmoor experience remembered by several of the Blackmoor bunch is an adventure that takes place seemingly after Arneson returns from a European vacation in mid July.  This would be the "Icelandic Cave" adventure I've mentioned in previous posts wherein Dave's players are on a mission to find none other than Dave himself, after his plane crashlands in Iceland apparently on its way back from his trip to Europe. and somehow Arneson stumbles through a cave there into the land of Blackmoor.

What game, if any, may have taken place on May 22 isn't clear, possibly it was the first Castle/Dungeon game inspired by a monter movie binge that Arneson reported so often (see here for related discussion) but in any case it seems the players involved in the Icleandic Cave adventure don't recall the earlier Troll Bridge game in April - probably because they weren't there.  Arneson's basement was a veritable revolving door of games and gamers and people showed up when they could.

Nevertheless, there is one gamer who remembers the Troll Bridge Game, or at least what he remembers certainly seems to be that game.  That player is Bob Meyer, whom many of my readers may know as the person who took over as Game Master of the Blackmoor campaign after Arneson's passing. Bob has recounted his initial and brief encounter with the land of Blackmoor several times, most recently in the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary.  I won't repeat the whole story, but here is some of what Bob has to say about it:

"I was in the game that had that troll, and I did not care for the rules. The troll killed me in no time at all, and I was a hero! I refused to have anything to do with Blackmoor for a very long time after that."

"I claim to have the first character killed in Blackmoor. How is that for a claim to fame?" From The Comeback Inn Forum

Claim to fame indeed.  Fifty years ago today, Bob the Hero appears to be the first of a very long line of PC's in our beloved hobby to die fighting monsters. 


Havard: said...

Very nice article. I like how it draws lines between several of the early games. This is spot on.

David A. Wesely said...

Well, the first to die in a FANTASY RPG. But the first PC to die in an RPG was David L. Arneson, who was killed in a duel with another PC in the very first game of Braunstein (28DEC68). So Bob Meyer was following in the footsteps of his DM!

Dick McGee said...

Also the first person to rage quit a campaign, apparently. Think I'd call that infamy, not fame.

Sebastian DM said...

Thanks for the post. I think it is a nice commemoration. I was just sitting and trying to fit these events into a timeline myself and you cleared up a couple of things.

If I may ask, how is it known that the letter was sent in March 1971? I had not found anything signifying a date form the letter or accompanying map, so was only recently that I realized the significance of it. I assume it is this letter you mean, which was posted by Secrets of Blackmoor here:

Regis Rappar said...

Hi DH ; I belong to an association dedicated to translate interesting articles like this to French :

May we translate this piece? :) Please contact me at rappar2 AT so I could send you all info and how we're NOT trying to steal your work ;)

DHBoggs said...

Thanks all for the comments and special thanks to Maj. Wesely for reminding us about Arneson's fate in the first Braunstein!

Sebastian DM>>>If I may ask, how is it known that the letter was sent in March 1971?

There is a postmarked envelope with one of the surviving copies.

paleologos said...

Fantastic post - a fitting tribute to the day!

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